The purpose of an architecture design studio is to introduce you to design thinking and the design process as systems or frameworks that apply to all architectural design projects.
This is done by asking you to complete design projects. Each project will include a combination of some kind of site or environment, an end-user, a building or structure typology, a project brief, an architectural program, and some other opportunities and constraints. Some of these words might be new to you, but that is okay. You will gradually start to understand these as you go through your design studios.
In your first design studio, you may be given a series of very small and simple projects are activities that introduce you to some basic design theory and principles.
With each subsequent studio, the complexity, size and amount of time you spend on each project will increase, as you are constantly introduced to more and more elements of the design process, design thinking and theory. By your final studio, you may be working on one very large and complex project that lasts a whole semester or even a year.
Teaching Style and Content
The teaching style may differ between architecture schools but a design studio is very “hands-on.”
Design studios will generally have some content and then practical application of that content in a design project.
- Lecture and presentations (content) – Design content and theory will be delivered at one point to the whole student body. These are generally weekly and either presented in a lecture theatre or online as a lecture or series of presentations or eLearning. It is expected that you attend live or watch the recorded presentations before tutorials each week, take notes and study the content to ensure you understand it so that you can apply these ideas to your design project as it develops.
- Readings and Resources (content) – You may be asked to undertake readings or additional research or study each week. Again, it is generally expected that these activities are completed, studied and understood before each tutorial and applied to your design project to show your understanding.
- Tutorials (application) – Depending on the value of your design studio, you may have tutorials once or twice a week. This is where the development of your project occurs and you apply what you are learning in presentations and readings to your work. You may be given specific activities or be asked to drive your learning and design process through experimentation. Either way, it is expected that you present a significant amount of work at each tutorial for review and feedback.
Design Tutorial Format
Every design tutorial is different from the last. The format and content will depend on the project, the particular tutor and their experience, teaching style and approach, the students and their needs as individuals and a group, and the design proposals that are produced and design solutions and issues that arise.
A good tutor may have a general outline to follow but can see where their students are at and adjust what they are teaching in response to this. Do not be surprised if what you do in your tutorial differs slightly to a friend in another group. Part of the process of architecture school is to be exposed to many different perspectives and start to create your philosophies and frameworks. There is no right or wrong, they are just different.
An architecture design tutorial may have a range of activities including:
- Content review – Review and discussion of content from weekly lectures, presentations, readings and research. Come prepared with questions to talk and discuss.
- New content – The tutorial may include some content specific to the project that is separate to the lecture. In early years this may be more related to skills or processes of how to do things such as drawing, concept development or model making rather than design theory.
- Assessment discussion and Q+A – Detailed discussion of the assessment and project expectations and requirements, with an opportunity to ask questions that you may not previously have asked in the lectures.
- Informal presentation – Informal presentation of student work for feedback and discussion – this may occur as individual presentations to the class, in smaller groups or one-on-one to your tutor and can often form a large part of the design tutorial process.
- Individual desk crits – The opportunity to present work individually to your tutor for individual feedback while the class is working on other tasks or activities.
- Formal presentation – Formal presentation or design crit or critique at the end of a project or semester. This often includes external guests to review and comment on your work and give you a different perspective which can be fun.
- In-class activities – Specific in-class activities such as model making or collage, drawing or design, that will move you towards developing your ideas for your major project. These may or may not be presented or discussed in the class or continued at home for review at a later time.
It is important to know what is being covered in a design tutorial so that you are prepared with the right materials and equipment. At the very least you should always have drawing materials and equipment and all your current work with you to be prepared to present this at every class. Even if it’s not finished, even if you don’t know what you are doing, or if you are stuck – especially if you are stuck!!!
Let’s talk a little bit about the process in a design studio.
Design is an iterative process, not a linear process. This means that you will not just complete an activity and it is done. Design requires you to test different ideas, figure out what does work and what does not and try something different, over and over, constantly refining and revising, and presenting for feedback until you are considering everything that needs to be considered and it is all working well together.
Be prepared to make a lot of stuff in a design studio. The type of activities you might complete include collage, drawing, physical model making, digital model making and a whole lot more. It is about playing around and exploring ideas.
Be prepared to make stuff that doesn’t work. Be prepared to draw stuff that looks dumb. Be prepared to start again. Be prepared for some projects to develop easily, while others are a challenge.
Process and Outcome
What is important to note about a design studio is that the process you go through to get to the result is often just as important as the outcome and final result or presentation of your ideas or resolution.
This may be very different from completing an essay where you might undergo multiple drafts but only submit the final version for assessment. Or an exam, where you study and create thorough notes and a detailed review process, but only the exam results are considered.
In a design studio, your grade may often be determined on your process, your ideas, your experiments with options and consideration of alternative solutions that may or may not work, as well as your final design solution.
This is why attendance at every class, completion of every activity, response to feedback and consistency in work production between each class is an essential part of a design studio and developing your project.
What is important to note about a design studio is that feedback is provided in several formats.
- Class Feedback – The whole class may pin up their work, and the tutor will highlight generally good examples of what is working, what is not working, and what the gaps in the work are.
- Small-Group Feedback – The tutor may work with small groups to discuss common issues and solve problems as a group.
- Individual Feedback – The tutor may work with individual students to provide very specific feedback and guidance.
It is important during design tutorials to produce work so that you can receive feedback and all students can learn from one another. Be constantly aware of when the tutor is providing feedback so that you can take notes. Whether feedback is to the class, a small group or you as an individual, you need to look for:
- What is working? Why?
- What needs to be changed or improved? Why? What is not working? Why not?
- What is missing? What are the gaps? What has not yet been considered and needs to be?
Workload And Independent Study
Design studio workloads are big. There is no getting around this.
Each studio will nominate a certain amount of hours that are recommended to complete the course, but in all honestly, this amount of time will usually get you by. To do well, many students will often spend a lot more time than is recommended, especially the further you are along in your course.
The key to managing your workload is:
- Good productivity, task management and time management system
- Consistent work each class – you cannot do 3 or 4 or 6 weeks of work in the days before an assessment is due. Design just does not work like that.
- Independent study skills and the ability to motivate yourself and drive your learning.
- Internal inspiration, a commitment to your work and a keen interest in what you are doing that drives you to get up each day and research, explore and make stuff.
In every project, you want to find something that interests and excites you and grab hold of that.
Studio culture may be very different from what you have experienced before.
Studio culture is about encouraging students to work together to help understand and solve problems and bounce ideas around. In practice, architects do not often work in isolation. Instead, they continually review one another’s work to try to see different perspective and alternatives.
Depending on the school you attend and the facilities it provides, students may have dedicated workspaces for each year level where you can set up and store your materials and equipment and work with a regular group of students. Alternatively, you may have lockers and a “hot-desk” set up where you use a space for a short period. Or, you may have to do all you work from home or find an alternative study location.
Regardless, it is important to try to engage in and utilise the design and studio culture throughout your studies rather than work at home in isolation all the time. So find a group of people you can work with to help each other out throughout your degree.
At the end of the day, design studios can be a great opportunity to experiment and explore and create and test ideas without a boss or clients or restrictions placed upon you. You get out of them what you put into them.
Don’t be scared to express ideas or ask questions, especially if you feel you don’t know what you are doing. Chances are, everyone else in the room feels the same to some degree.
Liz from ArchiMash
PS… If you have any questions about specific aspects of a design studio or comments about your experience in design studios, I’d love to hear below.